A Teacher’s Impact

On Saturday, May 12, members of the Class of 1987 – on campus to celebrate their 25th reunion -  presented the Coggeshall Award posthumously to former faculty member Peter Mansfield. Surrounded by Peter’s family, as well as classmates and others from the Nobles community, Sue Cullinane Jeppson ’87 offered the following remarks :

Sue Cullinane Jeppson presents the annual Coggeshall Award to the late Peter Mansfield.

It is a great privilege to stand here with my classmate, Kyle Hublitz, and members of the Class of 1987 to award the 2012 Coggeshall Award to the late Peter Mansfield, whose wife, Patty Mansfield, has graciously accepted this honor on his behalf. This award honors a member of the Nobles community who served the school and was of particular importance to our class.

The Class of 1987 put a small mark on the Coggeshall Award this year by asking the entire class to vote and write in comments supporting their chosen candidates.  We had a wonderful response with many thoughtful, inspirational words about so many deserving Nobles teachers, both past and present, with Peter Mansfield garnering the most.  One classmate wrote in: “All three (teachers I voted for) embodied enthusiasm – especially enthusiasm! – service and dedication to students and the profession, and continue to provide an example to me in my own professional life. Although I should note that nearly every teacher at Nobles could fit the same description! I would say that it would be particularly meaningful for our class to honor Mr. Mansfield. Thank you!”

It dawned on me in preparing these words, that many more recent grads may have never known Peter Mansfield during their time here as he retired soon after we graduated. I, also, never had him as a teacher while at Nobles, but I can say with confidence, we missed out on one of the greats.  For those of you who did know Mr. Mansfield, aka “Peter,” “PTOB,” “Pete the Old Boy,” “Pistol,” it is challenging to find the words to capture his enormous spirit, but we will do our best.

Peter Mansfield’s Nobles career spanned decades, and his contributions reached the entire Nobles student body, from teaching “A Christmas Carol” in Sixie English to his senior Modern Poetry elective, even chairing the English Department during his tenure.  He coached tennis, football and, during my time, middle school football with G.K. Bird where he also trained student assistant coaches.  He taught generations of Nobles students and there is at least one 1987 classmate who was taught by Mr. Mansfield as was her father.   Mr. Mansfield’s love for Nobles extended to his family who became part of the Nobles fiber.  He was a proud Nobles parent and grandparent, with his granddaughter, Emily, recently graduating in 2010.  Most of his four children, Timothy, Peter, Geoffrey and Pam have joined us today from near and far and we are honored to have you here.

I had the great privilege of meeting Peter and Patty Mansfield more recently in our lives. He did not teach me Dickens or Modern Poetry; the lessons I learned from Peter and Patty Mansfield are not on midterms or final exams, but they are some of the most vital lessons I have learned. First, they taught me that finding and cherishing the right life partner is a hard-earned gift in life, and he found a good one. Patty is an extraordinary person, unlike any other person I have met with intelligence, warmth, good humor and style.   I was privileged to glimpse a bit of their relationship, and hope you do not mind, Patty, my sharing a little.  Peter would on occasion stop mid-sentence to gaze at Patty and say out loud, “Isn’t she beautiful?” with a lingering smile as if to say, “Can you believe she’s with me? I am the luckiest man alive.”  He had that gleam of a budding romance in his eyes, I imagine similar to an early date in the FRAT babysitting the Coggeshall children when he was “pitching woo.” (a phrase  I recently learned from Tim Coggeshall when he told me this story).  It was wonderful to be in the presence of this long love affair, and anyone here who has been with them knows what I say is true. Despite all the challenges that life throws in the way, you have been models of seemingly effortless devotion, good humor and grace.

The next lesson I learned from Peter was that the pursuit of your passions with full commitment will bring you joy for a lifetime. I have been told of Peter’s great love of literature, poetry, that he loved teaching and coaching Nobles students, his friends and colleagues, but what I experienced was his peace, a sense of fulfillment from a complete life lived with generosity of spirit and self.   Peter Mansfield loved Nobles.  He loved Nobles more than anyone I’ve encountered, and I know many people, myself included who love Nobles. Nobles was hardwired in his system and any connection to Nobles, from reading the Bulletin to seeing a former student or colleague, brought an immediate smile, a twinkle to his eye, a firm gripping handshake that often pulled you into a tight hug, sometimes if so moved (and if you were lucky) even a kiss on the cheek.  Nobles pleased, comforted and nurtured his heart and mind long into his long life.

A question we often don’t ask our loved ones is, “How would you like to be remembered?” I did not I ask Peter this question when he was alive.  However, I’d like to share some of the many remembrances Peter inspired when we asked his former colleagues, friends and students.

“He was an authentic,” a “one of a kind,” “an instant classic,” “an ultimate character,” “he loved life, Nobles, teaching and children.” “He had an appetite for life and all its courses,” “he was a splendid human being,” “a wonderful friend.” “Peter was a showman, with a great sense of humor;” “he was a dramatic, over the top personality, flamboyant, youthful, enthusiastic.”  “Peter had a lively mind, always continuing to read, constantly educating himself.”   I think Peter would smile his bright smile to be remembered this way by friends and former students. I have been forever touched by this lovely man and his wife, and am humbly grateful.

I will finish with words from another classmate, “Peter Mansfield was an iconic Nobles teacher who passed away this year. When I think of my time at Nobles, Peter Mansfield always comes to mind. His wit was as sharp as his clothes. Despite his “bark” on the football field (kind of required with seventh- and eighth-grade boys), Mr. Mansfield also had a kindness that made him one of Nobles most beloved figures during our short time there.” Thank you, Mr. Mansfield, for your “one of a kind” contribution Nobles, the students and colleagues whom you have touched over the years, especially, the Class of 1987 and me.

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